AS I SEE IT - 1/25/2001
by: Bob Magee

This week... a summary of the various news items concerning the campaign by the Parents Television Council and their friends in the religious right to censor sports entertainment in general, and the WWF in particular.

First, on the website, the so-called "news" project of the Media Resource Center, the continued participation of WWF Entertainment, Inc. with the other partners of the Smackdown Your Vote campaign that took place during the 2000 Presidential election, was attacked with the usual slant that Bozell's supposed "conservative alternative to the 'liberal' press" typically presents.

For those who wish to do so, they can read the article in full at this link, or read it below:

" Secretaries of State Launch Voter Project With WWF
By Christine Hall, CNS Staff Writer
January 19, 2001

( - The World Wrestling Federation may have had sponsors pull their advertising from its Smackdown! program, but the WWF has a new partnership with the National Association of Secretaries of State, an alliance of mostly elected constitutional officers from around the country.

The WWF and the NASS announced the partnership at a Washington, DC news conference Friday, describing how the two organizations will work together to register people to vote and to increase the political involvement of young people.

The initiative, called 'Smackdown Your Vote,' has additional hosts, including the cable TV music channel MTV and Project Vote Smart. The melding of wrestling and political participation began in earnest in August, 2000, when the initiative was first launched.

According to NASS Communications Director Kay Albowicz, Smackdown Your Vote sponsors will be placing voter registration booths outside arenas where WWF events are held.

The WWF partnership with the secretaries of state follows a spate of commercial advertisers who stopped advertising on WWF programs because of the violent and sexual content of some of the shows.

Among the organizations that have pulled their ads from the WWF Smackdown! show are Coca-Cola, the US Army, Ford Motor Company
(note well that the US Army and Ford have recently run ads on WWF programming) and MCI/Worldcom. Approximately 40 companies have withdrawn or withheld their advertising from the wrestling show.

Also focusing attention on the sport are press reports of numerous cases around the nation in which children have allegedly killed other children while mimicking wrestling maneuvers.

In one case, a 13-year-old Florida boy is being tried as an adult after the death of a 6-year-old girl while imitating professional wrestling moves. According to an Associated Press report, Lionel Tate said he accidentally killed Tiffany Eunick, who died following a series of kicks and punches that smashed the girl's skull, damaged her liver and broke a rib.

A similar case in Great Britain resulted in an inquiry into the 1998 death of a woman allegedly at the hands of an 18-year-old man. The London Daily Telegraph reported September 19, 2000, that Barrister Jane Mischon, who chaired the inquest, said, 'I also feel that the World Wrestling Federation had quite an important part to play in this tragedy.'

But the violent and sexually oriented nature of some of the WWF programming doesn't seem to bother the NASS, which denies endorsing the shows or their content.

'We're only endorsing Smackdown Your Vote, which is just the registration part of their events,' said Albowicz. 'It really doesn't have anything to do with the wrestling. We're bi-partisan, and we have a lot of groups that we support that reach out to young voters that may or may not be controversial. But, at the same time, we're not endorsing what they do.'

Albowicz also said NASS President Sharon Priest, Arkansas Secretary of State, was not concerned about partnering with pro wrestling because the NASS is not endorsing WWF programming.

NASS Treasurer and Tennessee Secretary of State Riley Darnell admitted that he was not entirely familiar with the Smackdown Your Vote project, but said he generally supports the partnership as a means of reaching young people.

'You deal with the world that you've got,' said Darnell. 'You have to make decisions based on how do you reach folks, and if the audience they (WWF) have is the audience we're trying to reach, I think you have to utilize that in being able to be able to communicate with the 18 to 34 year old group,' said Darnell.

Darnell said NASS's limited budget and partnership opportunities factored into the organization's choice to partner with the WWF.

'There are a lot of things I would probably change,' Darnell said, adding 'we don't have the resources ourselves to go out and use advertising dollars to deal with those issues, so we're going to have to partner with somebody.'

While Darnell wouldn't criticize the WWF or its programming, he said the partnership was partially the result of circumstances. 'I'm sure that there would be better groups to deal with, but apparently they haven't come forward,' Darnell explained. 'Although we may not necessarily agree with everything we see on television. A lot of things I don't like.'

'I can't criticize the choice of going with this group,' said Darnell. 'I know my children, when they were younger, were into this kind of entertainment. And it is entertainment,' said Darnell.

Darnell also indicated there was minimal concern about an organization of high-ranking state officials aligning itself with programming that might be subject to criticism for its content.

'Some of the things I see on TV today are really rather repulsive, but I can't say that we won't take the opportunity to reach an audience that's out there. I don't know how you're going to reach them, otherwise, if you don't go with groups like this... because we haven't been very successful, to date,' Darnell said.

An official with the Alabama secretary of state's office echoed Darnell's concern about reaching young people, regardless of the vehicle. 'We had to do something to save this current generation' as a voting generation, said David Azbell, a spokesman for Alabama Secretary of State Jim Bennett, a past president of the NASS.

'Sure, you would like to encourage people to vote on PBS and Masterpiece Theater, but you're not going to reach 18 to 35 year olds who don't vote by partnering with PBS and Masterpiece Theater,' said Azbell.

'You've got to go to where your target audience is. I think if you look at demographics, you'll find that that target audience is right there watching the WWF every Monday and Thursday,' Azbell said.

Television ratings data from October 2000, show that more than 2.6 million children watched the Smackdown! program, with about 1.2 million of those child viewers between 2 and 11 years of age."

It seems a simple enough tactic. If you want to talk to voters of a certain age group, go where they are. Period. Instead, the PTC and would have the NASS advertise someplace beside a show that demographics suggest as a good buy.

Then there's the Surgeon General's recent report,which served to debunk the traditional link made by conservative groups between the viewing of violence to the committing of violent acts:

"Surgeon general's youth-violence report debunks PTC and others who claim direct link between media and youth violence...

Alicia Benjamin-Samuels, The Freedom Forum Online

Although a report issued this week by Surgeon General David Satcher mentions a link between media violence and youth violence, several First Amendment experts say the report does more to vindicate, rather than condemn, the media.

'The report well establishes, contrary to the media-violence campaigners' claims, that we (the media) are not creating a culture of violence among our youth, nor are there any substantial adverse long-term effects,' said Robert S. Peck, a Washington, D.C., constitutional lawyer.

The report 'found that it was extremely difficult to distinguish between the relatively small long-term effects of exposure to media violence and those of other influences,' according to a press release issued by the surgeon general's office on Jan. 17. However, the report does say, 'Research to date justifies sustained efforts to curb the adverse effects of media violence on youths.'

'The issue of the role of the media in youth violence is an important one, and some people expected it to be a major focus of our report, ' Satcher said in a Jan. 17 CNN chat room discussion. 'But, in the report, while we point out that exposure to violence in the media — especially television — can significantly increase aggressive behavior in youth, it is not a major long-term factor in violent behavior.' He said more research should be conducted to discover what causes youth violence.

The White House and Congress requested that the youth violence study be conducted in 1999 after two Columbine High School students in Colorado killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide. A shooting at a Baltimore high school happened about an hour before Satcher released the report's findings, according to an Associated Press article.

A team of researchers, assembled by the National Institutes of Health, prepared the report.

The report suggests that factors, other than media violence, threaten to cause violence among young people. 'The major factors today fall into the categories of individual and environmental factors,' Satcher said in the CNN chat room discussion. The report also says that a failure to recognize the true nature of the youth violence problem can 'obscure the need for informed policy or for interventions.'

Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship agrees with Satcher's assessment that other factors contribute to youth violence.

'The report recognizes that violence is an extremely complex issue and quick fixes won't do and can actually be harmful and distract attention from more profitable avenues and research,' Bertin said. 'The report leaves media influences in a very marginal place,' she added.

Bertin said Satcher's report is similar to one issued in 1994 by the National Academy of Arts and Sciences on violence that pointed to environmental, biological, social, economic and personal factors that influence violent behavior among all people, not just youth.

Peck says that those who use the surgeon general's report to support government limitations on media violence would be misusing it.

'Even the surgeon general, who obviously was seeking to find a significant connection between media violence and real violence, could not, and instead recommended 'efforts to curb adverse effects,' Peck said. 'I read that as support for more media education, not for censorship.'

Bertin says she hopes the surgeon general's report will allow people to discuss the debate over whether media violence influences youth violence more dispassionately and clearly.

'It's simply wrong-headed to take the shootings at Columbine High School and say if kids don't watch violence on television and don't play video games then they won't commit violent acts' she said.

Marjorie Heins, director of the Free Expression Policy Project in New York, says the causes of youth violence are complex and grow out of family and peer group relationships. 'Media violence is not a significant factor and censoring media violence will do nothing to resolve the problems of troubled youth,' she said.

The report 'focuses on real causes of problems of youth violence,' Heins said. 'The media is a very minor insignificant factor in this report, which criminologists have been saying for 10 years or more.'

In the press release issued by Satcher's office, the surgeon general said it's important that the nation confront youth violence 'systematically using research-based approaches and to correct damaging myths and stereotypes that interfere with the task at hand.'

Heins agrees.

'Hopefully, the report will help focus policy makers on real solutions to this problem rather than headline-grabbing, but ultimately senseless, censorship proposals.'"

Asking policy makers to follow up on "headline-grabbing but ultimately senseless proposals" is, of course, is exactly what the PTC, the American Family Association and other have been doing. They've done that, instead of what WFAC and many others have suggested for a long, long time: asking parents to be parents to their children and make the determinations as to what is suitable for viewing themselves. We've also suggested that parents being parents is the best alternative to leaving a self-appointed group of moral extremists to put themselves in a position to do it for them.

Finally, despite the brave face the Parents Television is putting forth publicly, it was reported on the WFAC message board by "WWFanatic" on Wednesday that the PTC is sending out a letter to its mailing list begging for money to help in the WWF lawsuit.

In the letter, the PTC states to those on their mailing list (not to be confused with actual "members") that this is a life or death matter for them. The PTC claims in this letter that this lawsuit could destroy the organization completely.

In the mailing, L. Brent Bozell complains about the information that WFAC has uncovered about his ties with the Unification Church (continuing to deny it all the while).

The last item in the mailing complains that if the WWF wins this lawsuit, it could quite very well mean that "no one will ever dare try to stand up to them again." Or translated correctly, it will mean that slander, libel, and defamation of character will not be allowed as a tool of political and social expression against a form of entertainment.

Until next time...


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